3D Print Finishing with Paint

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Around here, it’s not often that 3D prints make it to the finishing stage. Often, our youth makers get their prints to a decent quality, are happy with them at that stage, and then move on to their next project. However, we are trying to encourage them to take their prints further and explore some finishing techniques. The easiest place to start is with simple painting techniques.

I spent an afternoon printing a set of prints to experiment with a variety of paint finishes and tested a wide range of paints to model some easy ways for our makers to take their prints to the next level. I selected different types of paints that I was able to easily find at the local craft store (like Michaels) and after painting my sample prints and examining the results, ranked the results based on Ease of UseCoverageAccessibility + Cost, and Kid-Friendliness on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is low.

A few notes about my process: I wanted this process to be as quick and accessible for youth-serving audiences as possible so I skipped some “pro” steps. No sanding, filing or priming was done before applying paint. While these actions may have improved the coverage of some paints, I chose to skip them for the sake of time.

Sharpie Markers

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Sharpie permanent markers were a nice place to start because most people have access to them and they are a quick way to add a bit of polish to a print. The one drawback to the Sharpie markers that I found on my test prints was that the ink tended to bleed into unintended areas on the piece.

  • Ease of Use: 5
  • Coverage: 3
  • Accessibility + Cost: 5
  • Kid-Friendliness: 4

Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Markers

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A logical next step was to test the Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Markers. The coverage on these was better than the permanent markers, but scored a bit lower on kid-friendliness because they have an odor, since they are basically oil paint, and can be a little tricky to work with. They are also more expensive than regular Sharpie markers. These might be a nice option for older youth in middle or high school to try as a finishing tool.

  • Ease of Use: 5
  • Coverage: 4
  • Accessibility + Cost: 3
  • Kid-Friendliness: 2

Craft Paint

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The craft paint was my favorite of this whole cycle because the coverage was great and craft paint is easy to use, inexpensive, and very kid-friendly. You can find this almost anywhere and may already have some in your art and craft supplies, so it is a great place to start.

  • Ease of Use: 4
  • Coverage: 5
  • Accessibility + Cost: 5
  • Kid-Friendliness: 5

Glossy Craft Paint

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While the regular craft paint was my favorite of the paints I tried, the Glossy Craft Paint was definitely my least favorite. The coverage was extremely poor, especially compared to the matte finish of the regular craft paint. The coverage may have been improved by adding a coat of primer before painting, so perhaps I will try that in a future test.

  • Ease of Use: 4
  • Coverage: 1
  • Accessibility + Cost: 4
  • Kid-Friendliness: 5

Liquitex Basics Acrylic

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Liquitex Basics acrylic paint is a slightly heavier paint than the craft paint, but works just as well to cover 3D prints. Generally, you can find these paints in various sizes and colors at craft stores in the painting / art section. These paints are pricier than craft paint.

  • Ease of Use: 4
  • Coverage: 5
  • Accessibility + Cost: 4
  • Kid-Friendliness: 4

Golden Heavy Body Acrylic

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Golden Heavy Body acrylic paint is a much heavier print than the others and is considered artist quality paint. With that in mind, this paint can be harder to find and is definitely more expensive than the previous options. Given these factors, I wouldn’t recommend this for youth prints, especially considering that you can get similar results with the much cheaper craft paint.

  • Ease of Use: 4
  • Coverage: 5
  • Accessibility + Cost: 2
  • Kid-Friendliness: 3

Hobby Enamel

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Similar to the glossy craft paint, the Hobby Enamel was low on my list of favorites. Typically used for painting models, you can find this in most craft or hobby shops. However, this type of paint has a strong odor, is recommended for outside use, and comes with a toxicity warning. For those reasons, I do not recommend using this with youth of any age. The coverage is also poor, so I prefer less harmful paint with better coverage.

  • Ease of Use: 4
  • Coverage: 2
  • Accessibility + Cost: 3
  • Kid-Friendliness: 1

Crayola Washable Paint

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This was an impulse addition to my test paints. I found it in the aisle with the crayons and markers on my way to the checkout and added it to my cart assuming that many educators might already have similar paints in their spaces. I was pleasantly surprised by the results of this paint for finishing prints! The coverage was way better than I expected, certainly beating out the glossy craft paint or hobby enamel.

  • Ease of Use: 4
  • Coverage: 3
  • Accessibility + Cost: 5
  • Kid-Friendliness: 5

Now that I’ve tried some of these easy techniques for adding polish and finish to 3D prints, I plan to share them with our youth makers and encourage them to try these techniques out on their own prints. I hope you will do the same!

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